A Lowcountry Classic Profile
Another melody floated through the church, sending thrills up the spine. Her body swayed gently, easily, as the dexterity of her hands blended smoothly with the foot petals, a beautifully solved puzzle. Patiently, magnificently, always smiling, she sparked the organ keys to life with multiple selections until the bustling bride lit up at the perfect one.
Nina Powell Rodman, organist and choir director for St. Luke's Episcopal Church is among the fortunate. "I knew early in my musical journey I would always play church music," she said.
From a strong Christian family, Nina is a third generation organist, following in the footsteps of her grandmother, Delta Burkhart, her aunt, Nina Lee Denzer and her mom, Eldena Powell. A beautiful gold cross, filled with diamonds, falls gracefully around her neck, a gift from her aunt to be worn in each worship service.
Her journey of a thousand talents began with classical music lessons when she was in the third grade. By her freshman year in high school, Nina had learned the organ. Joining her friends in the Methodist church where she was confirmed, she quickly became assistant organist at the amazing age of 15. Her thirst continued, and the Evansville, Indiana native obtained her Music Education degree from DePaul, and a master's in music from Boston University.
In 1966, Nina married Harvard MBA, Stewart Rodman, and after two years in the service and the addition of a daughter and son, the family settled in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. They joined Kirk in the Hills United Presbyterian Church, well known for one of the most impressive examples of Gothic structure in the Midwest, and its carillon, reputedly the largest in the world, housing 77 bells. "We loved the carillon recitals," recalled Nina, who founded and directed three children's choirs and acted as assistant organist during their five-year residency. In spite of her accomplishments, Nina remembered, "I felt my music remained on the same plateau it had been for quite awhile, and I was not progressing." Her musical inquisitiveness stepped to the forefront once again in 1972, as she repeatedly inquired about the works of the carillon. Resident organist-carillonneur, Dr. Frederick Marriott, designer of Kirk's organ and carillon "invited me to climb the four flights(105) spiraling, narrow stairs to the bell tower cabin to watch a recital," said Nina. "My questions, my fascination with the wooden keys and the intricacies, led him to ask if I'd like to learn. It was the most exciting challenge that had happened in my life!" she admitted. She studied diligently, her hands and little fingers protected by felt and leather gloves to cushion the karate type blows necessary for the wooden keys to sound the bells. By 1973, her hometown paper proudly reported that Nina was the only woman to have ever played the famous tower carillon of bells at Kirk in the Hills.
Nina was invited to accompany Dr. Marriott's family on a European concert tour in 1974, affording her the opportunity to play five carillons in France and Belgium and six organs, including the historic one at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. "In 1976, at the Congress of the Guild of Carillonneurs of North America, I played my advancement recital, passing the proficiency test to become a performing member of the guild!" she said, smiling-a membership she maintains today.
Nina's musical journey took another step when she started ringing hand bells in the '80s. "I think it came as a result of enjoying the carillonning so much," she reflected. She has founded and taught hand bell groups in many local churches.
Momentarily, in 1985, she left her active participation in church music to be special events coordinator for Hartford's Easter Seal organization. "Music feeds the soul, and I could not stay away," she said, her warm smile lighting up the room again.
Stu's business career brought the family to Columbia in 1987 where Nina resumed her active participation in music. After much exploration about the East Coast, the Rodmans chose Hilton Head Island as the perfect venue. They purchased land in 1989, building and moving to the island in 1998. In 1997, Nina commuted each Sunday from Columbia to assist the Church of the Cross in Bluffton, starting their children's choirs and hand bells. Nina wasn't settled long before she jumped into the community, founding and directing the youth hand bells at First Presbyterian Church, and ultimately perfecting a group of 12 to perform at Disney World. As organist and musical director, she oversaw the installation of their organ.
In 2000, Nina began serving on the Hilton Head Orchestra board, and in 2002, after much prayer, accepted the position with the International Piano Competition in training to fill Bud Shay's shoes as vice chairman. "He stepped down sooner than I anticipated," said Nina, who also started the International Young Artists Musical Festival, drawing artists of all talents to perform on Hilton Head.
In 2003, St. Luke's Episcopal Church wisely recognized Nina's abundant talents, naming her their organist and director of music. Three hand bell choirs, ranging in ages from 8 to 80... ("It's never too late to learn," promised Nina.) and additionally teaching children to read music and all about the Bible captured a portion of Nina's days.
With Val Curry's retirement in 2006, Nina became International Piano Competition director, furthering the organization's goal (and her own) of meeting all the requirements needed for the competition to become a World Federation Member, of which there are only 123 in the world.
A multi-talented gal, Nina is serving as campaign treasurer in her husband's race for SC House Seat #123. If asked how she is, "Busy!" could easily replace "Fine!"
"When things become scrambled, I listen to sacred/classical music; it reorients my mind," she said.
In spite of life's challenges-growing up without her father and losing her first child-Nina says, "I am so blessed, and could not ask for more. Every person has a gift from God for their lives. We must find our purpose, pursue it and nurture what God has designed for us."
Her most inspiring Bible guidance verse is Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Nina always follows her favorite Life Verse from Ephesians: "Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord...."
That bustling bride for whom Nina found the perfect song, "Trumpet Voluntary," including a fabulous trumpet fanfare, was me. Thank you Nina, for your patience and guidance in making our wedding so musically perfect.